Green Mountain Lookout


Glacier Peak in the distance


Amazing for running!

Given the success of my hike the prior day, I figured I wanted one last easy alpine trip before calling it winter. Many of you know that when I first moved here and had no job and no friends and no family and nothing to do, I started hiking. That meant my hours of sitting were spend on WTA, learning everything I could about trails, discovering new areas, new views, new peaks (I didn’t know what Adams was!), new lakes (Lake Ingalls? Mind = blown), new adventures. So I started listing all of the hikes I wanted to do in a word doc. They were in order of driving distance, with notes like “this would be a good trail run” and “leave this for when you have more mountaineering experience” and “has lakes and rivers so good for cloudy days!” Many of them I have now knocked off as approaches to climbs, like Lake Ann or Heliotrope Ridge. But some are standalone hikes, and still deserve their own recognition. One of those on the list was Green Mountain Lookout. Finally hiked 10/29/2017!

  • Distance: 8.5 miles
  • Elevation: 3,300ft gain (6,500ft highest point)
  • Weather: 50’s and sunny
  • Commute from Seattle: 2:45 if you drive normally, 3:15 if you drive like a granny on gravel roads (me)
  • Did I Trip: Just a stubbed toe!


Fat grouse. Come be my dinner

My original hiking partner’s social life got a little out of hand, so I found myself waking up at 5am to go hike solo, which was actually fine by me since I needed the head space anyway. Green Mountain it was! Basically I drove like 6+ hours round trip just to hike for 3 but whatever, gotta get out. The Suiattle River Road sounds nice, but is actually a million miles of terrible washboard gravel road and it was a relief to get onto the Green Mountain turnoff, where the road became just rocky and not washboard. My car is awesome, but washboard absolutely destroys me. Apparently the term is “crabbing” where the car just skids sideways and it feels like the entire frame is shaking violently and falling to pieces. Potholes, get at me, rocks, you are my bitches, snow, meet my European mountain-snow-rated tires. Washboard…. ah, crap.


Let the foliage begin!!

After an eternity of skull-chattering road I parked next to the lone pickup at the trailhead, wolfed down a ton of peanuts, and started up. I had brought my hiking boots instead of trail runners expecting a bit of snow, and I wish I had brought trail runners. I did leave the axe and crampons in the car, so I didn’t look as foolish as the last trip.

The trail through the forest is a spectacularly smooth soft dirt trail and the elevation gain is quite mellow, or felt mellow compared to Sourdough the day before. The air smells wonderful, which I thought was a one-time thing when I was at Downey Creek back in June since it had been so long since I had been to mountains but I guess it’s just delicious regardless. And you aren’t even in the forest that long! After 1.5 miles you break out onto meadows slopes that dip in and out of trees, and I imagine they’re vividly green in the summer because the slopes were covered in ferns. But this time of year, it should be called Patchy-Red-And-Brown-Mountain, because there was no green to be seen.


“Green Lake”

I trekked up through dead and dying ferns, with occasional bursts of yellow and red foliage. The first slopes you see are not the slopes to the summit, but a lower-lying winding ridge that you could follow to the top if you so desired. But there was no snow, so I stuck with the summer trail. It wound past a small lake that had started to freeze over, which is where you get your first views of the lookout. And – blueberries!! It’s the end of October and there are freaking blueberries! They were mostly overripe, but there were a few gems in there. I alternated snapping pictures and stuffing my face. Glacier Peak hovers over you to the east for the entire hike, and Sloan, Pugh, and White Chuck decorate the horizon south and west. Pretty cool being able to say you’ve been up those (with the exception of White Chuck).


First glimpse of the lookout (center)

The trail traverses the slope beneath the lookout and then continues its switchback pattern beyond the basin, up and up to the ridge east of the lookout. You finally top out to spectacular views of the Downey Creek drainage, where my Patagonia jacket lies in a nest for whatever wild animal found it back in June. RIP. Dome looms massively one ridge over, and you can see all of the peaks of the Ptarmigan Traverse and the lesser known Buckindy Traverse (shh, don’t tell anyone about that one). The final hike to the lookout ends in what is remarkably similar to a sidewalk, except in the sky. It was windy, so I dropped my pack and huddled on the sheltered side of the lookout drinking in views of Snowking and Mt. Chaval, two peaks that are probably underrated just because you can’t see them from any major highways.


Ptarmigan Traverse peaks and Downey Creek drainage, RIP my jacket


Baker, Chaval, Shuksan, Snowking (cut off)

I whipped out my peakfinder app to confirm it was Mt. Chaval, and it turned out I had cell service, so I made sure to whine to everyone in the city about how I had forgotten my peanut butter snack and was stuck with salami and cheese. A lone female trail runner caught up to me and took a break by the lookout just as I started to head down, and a few minutes later I ran past yet another solo female hiker on her way up. Ladies, represent!! I hear so many people panicking about women hiking alone, or being concerned that I’m hiking alone, or being surprised to see me on the trail hiking alone, I get pumped when I see others. It’s normal, guys. I used to be scared of people on the trails and on the forest roads leading to the trails but it turns out it’s just a bunch of other Eves. Get out and enjoy the world, there’s so much to see!


Bad ass trail runner cresting the final ridge to the lookout


Buckindy group beyond the first ridge

I was back at the car about an hour after leaving the top, which was almost a bummer because it was such a beautiful day. I always feel like I wasted a day if I’m back before te sun sets. Should have traversed the ridges, or chosen a longer hike. But it was awesome to finally get to see something that’s been on the list since 3 years ago when hikes like Snow Lake or Kendall Katwalk blew my mind. You need to get back to your roots and remember why you hike, or why you climb, and I’ve spent a few months doing exactly that. It’s been a long time since I was excited for every corner, for every switchback, for every patch of color and every view even if it’s a view I’ve seen a million times. And that’s how the past few trips have been.


Looking back along the ridge from just below the lookout

Rock Mountain & Rock Lake via Snowy Creek


Rock lake from the ridge to Rock Mountain

Could you have a more genetic name for a peak? It’s like “Blue Lake” or “Round Lake” or “Mount Peak” (okay, the last one’s kind of funny, and in their defense, it was “Mount Pete” until a bunch of people screwed it up). And Rock Lake is kind of an oxymoron, it’s like naming a peak Water Peak. You can’t have a lake of rocks. It’d be weird. Anyway, enough Monday morning ramblings. Back after a few weeks without any new trails or climbs since Torment/Forbidden! Here are the stats.

Distance: ~11 miles
Elevation: 3600ft
Weather: 50’s and foggy, eventually sunny
Commute from Seattle: 2 hours
Did I Trip: No but (spoiler alert) I peed on a wasp nest and you can imagine how that went


Starting out in forest

We were originally planning on Lake Edna at my insistence (and I fantasized about tacking on some cragging since we’d be right off Icicle Creek Road), but decided halfway there that weather looked okay around Stevens Pass and we settled on Rock Peak, which Chelsea found on wta’s Hike Finder Map. My expectations were low. It was just a hike, pictures I had seen were mediocre, and I had wanted the alpine feel above tree line that I don’t trust Route 2 to deliver. But driving 2 hours instead of almost 3 was enticing, and I didn’t want to push it, so Rock Mountain it is! We decided to approach via the Snowy Creek Trail, which was a shorter and less steep(!) trail compared to the Rock Lake approach. We weren’t planning on a lake. In fact I didn’t even realize there was a lake there.


Fall foliage (credit: Chelsea)

The trailhead is 15-20 minutes past the Lake Valhalla trailhead, over a lower, lesser known Rainy Pass. My car got a wash scraping past all of the dewey slide alder hanging over the forest road. I hope you don’t care too much about your paint job. Amazingly, mine stayed mostly intact. We pulled over at the trailhead next to a car with a bumper sticker informing us that we should EAT MORE KALE! I’m working on enjoying salads and I’ve made a lot of progress in the last few months, but kale is… kale is still gross. Bleck.


The meadow! Hope those clouds clear

I wondered at where the rest of the road went, and we started hiking. It was wet at first, the past day had been pouring rain and everything was still wet. Rocking my yoga pants (yup), I wasn’t thrilled about the dew. Luckily the overgrown trail didn’t last long though, and soon enough we were in the woods. There’s a trail split with a sign a little over a mile in, and while I couldn’t entirely tell which way the signs were pointing, I can tell you that if you want the quickest way to Rock Mountain, keep going straight.


Fiery red plants. No idea what these are

We were soon dumped into a meadow full of brilliantly red plants and yellow grasses. It’s fall! Fuck, it’s fall. I started snapping pictures. The meadow is a tease, while you can see the ridge you’re aiming for across open grassy slopes, the trail dips back into the forest and starts to switchback up. Around the third southeastern switchback there is a wasp nest. We’ll return to that in a few hours. Also, some species of plant up there smells like poop. I suggested that it might literally be poop, but Chelsea wasn’t convinced. There can’t be that much poop around.


I believe that is Labyrinth Mountain… I could be wrong

Switchbacks usually annoy me, but not here. They were short and mellow, and gorgeous once you hit the grassy slopes. Up and up with surprisingly good views (Minotaur Lake and Labyrinth Peak look awesome!) and easy traveling with a party of two (the kale fans!) below us for scale, and eventually we hit the ridge, where the trail goes in both directions. Head right to get to the summit of Rock Mountain.


This is what the inside of a ping pong ball looks like, if it has a peak and a cairn

From the flattish ridge you can look down on Rock Lake, which was a surprise to me since I didn’t know it was coming. It’s surprisingly pretty, especially with the fall foliage all around it. The ridge heading east from Rock Mountain might qualify as dramatic too, sharp steep rock stark against the sky and the rolling hills of Route 2. Anyway, we went left to hit the summit, and just our luck: socked in at the top. Inside of a ping pong ball. We took a few great summit selfies and decided to head down since it was chilly in the wind. On the way down, the cloud(s) blew through, and everything was back in view. Hey, we got up here in 2 hours, want to head down to the lake? Hell yes! Chelsea’s awesome.


The best of the summit selfies (“where’s your nose guard?!”)


Heading to the more colorful end of the ridge

We went to the opposite end of the ridge where the trail switchbacked down the opposite side we had come up, through some ridiculously red foliage. We moved quickly, until “HUCKLEBERRIES!!!!!” I looked at my feet. Huckleberries everywhere! Holy shit I forgot about berries! We started double fisting berries left and right, someone has to starve out the bears right? We finally continued down to the lake, laughing at our purple faces and hands. Worth it.


Huckleberries!!! Go go go go go!

We arrived at the lake and set up to have snacks. I ran over to the side to attempt to get a picture with lake and fall foliage. We feasted on baked goods from Sultan Bakery, cheese, crackers, and happy corn mixed with chocolate covered pretzels which was a surprisingly delicious combo (and paired well with the surprisingly pretty lake). Eventually we knew we had to head back up, and stood back up ready to fight off the lactic acid in our legs. Ugh. And I had to pee, but wasn’t going to do it near running water, since I’m the idiot who often ends up drinking from that water.


Fall huckleberries! I considered filling a bag but realized none actually would make it into the bag.

Heading up was frequently interrupted by more photo breaks, more blueberries I MEAN HUCKLEBERRIES (Chelsea feels strongly about this: blueberries are east coast, huckleberries are west coast, get it right), debates over what was a squirrel and what was a chipmunk, and a family of very brave ptarmigans that didn’t give a shit about us. Back at the ridge we took one last look at the views and headed back down the switchbacks, hitting forest before we knew it. We stopped to delayer, and I remembered that I had to pee.

So I ducked behind a tree slightly below the trail, just next to the meadow. I heard the low hum of wasps, reminiscent of our beehives back in Boston. Ha, it’d be funny if you peed on a wasps’ nest. I looked around. No wasps, just a fat fly being a pest. I pulled up my leggings and walked off. It took about six steps before I felt the pinching all over my legs. Fuck. Definitely bees. I shot towards Chelsea, hopping on one foot while crushing bees with my bare hands. “Shit!!! Bees!” My fingernails were full of wasp gunk. Good thing I didn’t cut my nails MOM. “Chelsea!! Are there any left on my legs?! Tell me if there are any left on my legs!!” My three layers of windbreaker, sweater, and shirt were too powerful for wasps to break through. But my yoga pants were no match. My legs were toast.


Rock Lake

“You aren’t allergic right?” Chelsea asked, being responsible. “No, they’ll just get itchy and puffy and I’ll whine about it” I said. “Are you sure? Because one time someone told me they weren’t allergic and they ended up being very allergic.” I mean I don’t know I haven’t been stung by a bee since like middle school but it was never that bad? We’ll find out. I hobbled down the trail. The meadow wasn’t as impressive the second time around, either because we had seen so much better on the ridge or maybe because my brain was full of wasp venom.


Looking back across the lake at our snack spot, bottom right, and Rock Mountain, center right

The rest of the hike was less eventful. Neither of us tripped (Chelsea’s nimble, I just got lucky and paid my dues in wasp stings instead of stubbed toes and facefuls of dirt). We passed the kale fans on the way back, who were surprised to see us coming from behind. I was too happy to be back at the car where I could lay off the legs.

Oh, this gets to the other interesting part! We’re driving just past the Valhalla trailhead on the way down, and Chelsea starts gasping and pointing. Speechless. I look where she’s pointing and slowly brake the car. A huge. Fucking. Tree. Is slowly falling across the road. The entire thing was in slow motion, and it didn’t make a sound, it didn’t shake the ground, it’s like the whole world was suspended watching this monster snap and tip.


Timber! Chelsea for scale.

I was stopped in the middle of the road. Who gives a shit? We walked towards the tree. I don’t have tow straps, or a saw. I have straps that I use with my roof rack, we could try using those as tow straps? Or maybe with enough people we could roll it? Or, it’s soft enough maybe we can chip away enough to just make a ramp and drive over it. Everyone was brainstorming immediate ideas. The man in the truck behind us tried levering it with another branch. It wouldn’t budge, even with all of us.

Amazingly, at that instant, here comes a decked out pick up truck in the other direction. This guy’s gotta have something. He hops out of the car. “I have tow straps! We can move this.” Woo! He loops the straps around the log just beneath a knot so it doesn’t slip off, turns on the 4wd, and beautifully pulls the log out of the way. No hesitation, no directions needed, smooth as butter. The woman with him laughed. “This is probably making his day. He’s loving this.” I get it, I would too. Hell I’m proud just jumping other people’s dead batteries, wait until I tow someone.


MVP making sure we got home before dark and still had time to stop for dinner!

We all cheered after he moved it. We hopped back in the car. I was weirdly shaken, if I didn’t drive like a granny we could have been right under it when it fell. It’s unnerving seeing something so massive just topple like that without any wind or outside influence, it turns out it’s just dead on the inside and no one knew.

Happy to be back on hte highway where no trees could fall on me, we sped along Highway 2 and stopped at a Vietnamese fusion place for dinner. They had this amazing lychee drink, it’s worth stopping there just for that. I got a burger with guac and bacon, and it was delicious. Post hike/climb/falling tree survival meals are always amazing. I had even forgotten about my legs. I woke up the next morning and it looked like I had been peppered with paintballs from ass down, and my right eye (only my right eye) was swollen. Cool, let’s go crush it in society. Where are my sunglasses, and can I wear them indoors?
Update: Bee stings have turned purple. Either I have scratched them to the point of bruising (possible), or I am dying.


Looking back up at Rock Mountain and its rocky arm from the ridge

Gunn Peak

The three musketeers!

The three musketeers!

I wasn’t totally convinced about this hike, but I hadn’t made any of my own plans for Saturday, so I figured why the hell not. Rob and John are good company, so worst case scenario I’d get a good laugh and a bit of a workout. I ended up getting both of the above, as well as a pleasant reminder that stunning, untouched scenery can be found without driving 3 hours into the wilderness. Hiked the first weekend of October, 2015!
  • Distance: no idea. 9 miles? 7 miles? Short for how long it takes.
  • Elevation: ~4000ft gain, 6210ft highest point
  • Weather: foggy until we got above the clouds, and then 40’s-50’s and sunny!
  • Commute from Seattle: 90 minutes
  • Did I Trip: I was going to count everyone’s slips/trips/wipeouts on the way down but I forgot to keep track! But yes. And we had two twisted ankles, some muddy butts, and a very tired dog.

Tarns in front of Townsend

Tarns in front of Townsend

Now I’m writing this three weeks late (and posting four weeks late) because I’m busy lazy, so we’ll see how much I remember. We drove out in pouring rain. Halfway there, sitting in traffic (on Rt 2!) in the dark dreary wet weather I realized I didn’t even care, I was just happy to be getting out. We were listening to Reel Big Fish, who can’t be happy listening to that? We even stopped on the way to get steak and veggies for a campfire meal. I’ve never really cooked over a campfire before besides sausages and stuffed mushrooms and other wrap-it-in-tin-foil-and-go, so this was new.

We pulled up to the trailhead, still in pouring rain. I set up my tent and layered up for the weather, and we started grabbing big rocks to set up the fire. With some small miracles (and a starter log, or two) we had enough of a fire going to heat up food, and John cut up the steak while I handled veggies. I eventually admitted I had never made a shishkabob when John had to assist with the peppers. The only instructions were “make them a good size so they don’t fall off the skewer” which I apparently could not handle. For you other newbies, that means like ~1″ in diameter.

Post-shishkabobs, it was bedtime. Another rainy night in a tent built for snow, though at least I remembered to open the vents this time. We had alarms set for 5am, and soon enough, we woke up to… more pouring rain. The general consensus was that we’d keep sleeping, so I rolled back into my sleeping bag burrito after peeking out the door.

Ripley looking damn good on one of the first scramble sections

Ripley looking damn good on one of the first scramble sections

We got up for real around 7, and made hot chocolate and coffee. After about an hour, the mist started to brighten, and then clear, and we got a glimpse of blue sky. We had originally resigned ourselves to doing Barclay Lake or Mt. Baring, but… you know what? Eff it, let’s try for Gunn. Might as well. Summitpost said it might take around 9 hours, and we had 9 hours. We all had headlamps and were content coming back after dark if necessary, assuming we had good blazes. Sweet.

The trail is back down the road, maybe a tenth of a mile from the Barclay Lake trailhead. There’s a small dirt road that leads to a campground, and it’s right before the campground that you’ll find the trail heading off to the right. When we were there, it was nicely blazed with hot pink blazes. Rob had brought orange tape for us to use, though we didn’t need it in many places.

Up and up and up

Up and up and up

The trail goes maybe 150ft through a forest before you cross the stream, which was easy enough with plenty of logs and stones to hop across. I imagine when the water’s higher, it’s a bit more tricky. Once on the other side, the trail continues along what might have been a logging road at one point. I couldn’t tell besides the flat grade, but when someone pointed it out, I could totally see how it might be possible.

Don’t get complacent. The trail starts to go up, up, and up after a quarter mile on the flat forest-reclaimed road. It was reminiscent of the Eldorado approach, except I wasn’t carrying 50lbs. Just lots of roots, steep sections, and eventually, something I forgot existed: scrambles in the woods! After pushing aside plenty of tree branches along the bootpath and constantly being showered by water, we reached a rocky cliff, at which point you turn right and pretty much hug the rock for a while.

I always associate scrambles with open views and exposed rock. But there are some that are surrounded by trees, moss, roots, all those foresty things. We had Ripley (John’s dog) with us, and he had brought her life jacket (it has a handle on the back) in case we had to do a doggie belay and carry her up some sections. The first scramble was just a very short “traverse” to stay on the path, covered in moss and dripping with water because of the previous night. A few minutes after this, we reached a section that is probably a beautiful waterfall on occasion, but was pretty dried up this time of year. Cross that and immediately scramble up to the left and back into the trees. Yeah, this hike makes you work for those views.

Finally getting above the trees and brush, Baring in the background

Finally getting above the trees and brush, Baring in the background

Eventually the trees shrink into bushes and brush, and it feels like you’re making progress. But the brush isn’t much better. It’s thicker, harder to push out of the way, and does a damn good job of obscuring the path. And since it was all still wet… it all rains down every time you squeeze between bushes. But thanks to those blazes and the fact that much of it was trampled, there were few spots were we had to guess. I honestly expected it to be much more of a bushwhack than it was, but I think this late in the season, enough feet have been up there that it’s a little more well traveled.

I mean there was some fall foliage

I mean there was some fall foliage

Despite it being early October, there was only one section with real fall foliage, but damn was it vibrant. Finally we were out of trees, out of tall bushes, and surrounded by low colored, blazing heather and blueberry bushes and some scrubby plants I don’t recognize. I stood around snapping pictures constantly, and since Baring was in full view standing over the clouds I couldn’t stop. I had NO idea that there were pics so dramatic so close to Seattle. I thought most of the hikes within an hour or an hour and a half were more “rolling hill” style, with rounded tops, below the tree line, things like that. Not the sharp, dark rock we were looking at here. It felt so much more remote than I had expected.

Looking back at everyone approaching the talus field, Townsend and Merchant in the background

Looking back at everyone approaching the talus field, Townsend and Merchant in the background

There was a bit of a bootpath through the fall foliage. We reached a saddle between Tailgunner and Peak 5760 (which I admittedly might be confusing with Point 5760), just east of Tailgunner and just south of a small valley with a few tarns near the base of Peak 5760. We dropped down almost to the tarns but rather than take a pleasant dip we hung left towards the talus field. The route to Gunn Peak is effectively straight across the talus field to the highest clump of vegetation right below a prominent rocky outcropping on the south face of the peak.

Aim for that highest slanted strip of trees below the rocky outcropping in center frame

Aim for that highest slanted strip of trees below the rocky outcropping in center frame

Rob on the 3rd class scramble

Rob on the 3rd class scramble

We each chose our own way across that, and rejoined below the cliff band, which is where the real scrambling starts. Ripley had been a champ so far, but the 3rd class scramble was a bit too much for a dog. Ben, Vazul, and Evan agreed to hang with Ripley and take her over to Tailgunner while Rob led John and I up Gunn. We agreed to meet back at our lunch spot on the ridge between Tailgunner and Peak 5760.

Rob scaled the scramble with ease, and I waited below for him to clear the loose sections. When he was out of sight and well beyond the trees, I went up. I will say that some people (such as Rob) are very graceful scramblers. I am not usually among those. But there was nothing too hard, and I was up and in the trees soon enough, trying to find Rob. I had been making fun of him for putting up blazes for the entire hike, and now I didn’t know where he was. Ooh look! A blaze, just beyond the trees! Yes, aim for that, he must have put it there!

Nope, just a leaf. God dammit. But I was back out on another talus slope above the trees, and saw Rob up ahead of me scouting out the path. I figured we should wait for the others, so we decided he’d scramble a little further to figure out where we were headed and I’d wait to see who else joined.

John on the way back across the catwalk

John on the way back across the catwalk

After 10 or so minutes of waiting, the two of us were ready to continue when we saw John pop out of the trees below us. Sweet! We waited for him to catch up. You keep to the base of the cliff, negotiating talus until a gully opens up on your left side. Follow the gully, path of least resistance, and cross a notch when you reach the ridge. On the north side is where you’ll encounter the catwalk. It’s not Kendall Katwalk, it’s much narrower with a harrowing drop of 1000+ feet. Don’t fall. Follow that ridge, and soon enough, you’re on Gunn Peak! Which, despite being only 6200ft tall, is #29 on the most prominent peaks of Washington list with over 3651ft of prominence. Wow.

We couldn’t find a summit register. And damn did we look. It’s either not there, or it fell off the cliffs, or some asshat buried it under too many rocks. Ugh. We took a few photos, cracked open beers, and Rob laughed and called us the three musketeers. The three who made it to the top of Rainier back in August, and now the three who made it up Gunn Peak. Kudos, guys, you’re fantastic climbing partners.

Rob soaking in the views: Townsend, Merchant, and Baring all visible

Rob soaking in the views: Townsend, Merchant, and Baring all visible

Back through the fall foliage, even more vibrant in the late afternoon sun

Back through the fall foliage, even more vibrant in the late afternoon sun

Just as we sidled up to the clearing, we saw the other three coming back down. Perfect timing! We had spent quite a while on the summit, and I thought the rest of the group would be waiting for us. We met up and took a quick break before heading back down. I thought the way down went faster than the way up, but I’m a bad judge of time. Vazul and Evan and I were flying, and I got into a nice steady downhill rhythm. We stopped occasionally to wait for the others. At one point we were convinced they were lost near the sometimes-it’s-a-waterfall crossing, between someone yelling to ask where we were, general shouting, and the warnings (“ROCK!!!”) and what sounded like mini rockslides everywhere. We sat on the steep trail and waited for them to successfully make it over to us, where we were solidly back in the trees on dirt trail with no scrambling left.

Evan on one of the foresty scrambles

Evan on one of the foresty scrambles

In my head, I was comparing it to Eldorado, which had a bitch of an approach. Going down from Gunn, that’s what I was expecting. But the forested section was much shorter than Eldorado, and I was thrilled when we were on the flat what-once-might-have-been-a-road section. Poor Ripley was exhausted, but had kept up with us the whole time! Every time we stopped on the way down she sat on the ground and tucked her paws beneath her. But she didn’t seem to want to admit it, because she still looked damn happy.

We had been hearing gunshots for a while, and as we got closer to the river, we realized we were pretty close to the shots. I was unnerved, but didn’t think much of it. I think I’ve already mentioned I grew up in east coast cities, dealing with gunshots in deep, dense woods is not among my talents. Ben and John started yelling from the back, and Evan, Vazul and I looked at each other and said holy shit, we didn’t even think of that. Duh. Make lots of noise. The shots stopped, and John and Ben kept yelling periodically just to make sure. Within 15 minutes, we had crossed the river and popped out near the campsite, and apparently surprised the shit out of a few guys doing target practice, aiming across the river. Right where we were. But they had heard us, and had stopped, and I learned rule #1 of being close to gunshots while bushwhacking: make it clear you’re a person.

The best time of day for the woods

The best time of day for the woods

Up and down within 9 hours, never lost, no injuries, amazing weather up above the clouds, and we were back before dark. An unbelievable day, well worth the soggy night at the trailhead. Ripley was too tired to jump in the car, and from what I heard, spent the next few days mostly sitting and occasionally limping around the apartment.

Tower Mountain and Golden Horn

Rob and Simon at the beginning of the scramble

Rob and Simon at the beginning of the scramble

Edit: Happy one year anniversary to the blog! Woo! Here’s a link to my first ever post… it’s come a long way, as have my photography skills (or lack thereof) and tendency to keep talking.

With much of the Cascades getting a solid amount of fresh snow on Friday, we figured we’d avoid potential avalanchey situations and check out the dry, east side. A forecast of “Sunny, 0% precipitation” turned into “Mostly cloudy, snow, and freezing temperatures,” but when has that stopped us? We met at the trailhead parking lot Friday night and got started Saturday morning for what I thought was a 7 mile approach. Hiked 9/26/2015-9/27/2015!
  • Distance: 24ish miles round trip (surprise! 10 mile approach!)
  • Elevation gain: ~7000ish?
  • Weather: high 20’s and snowing to 50’s and sunny. Yay, mountain weather!
  • Commute from Seattle: Just over 3 hours
  • Did I Trip: I fell on my ass twice and struggled like a beached whale to get over the final summit block if that counts
  • GPX file here (summitpost also has one for just Golden Horn)

Awesome topography in every direction

Awesome topography in every direction

So there was one potential issue with this trip from the beginning that I neglected to tell my teammates: I was sick. For those of you who don’t know me, I almost never get sick. So when I do, I’m a victim of the man cold. It’s all over, I must be dying, what do I do? Do I eat soup and wash my hands a lot? I have no idea. Actually, you know what might cure me? 48+ hours of physical exertion, little sleep, no showers, and sleeping (trying) in a germ cocoon. Yeah, that’ll do it.

Kacie in fall colors

Kacie in fall colors

I knew John and Rob from Rainier back in August, but had just met Kacie and Simon. Simon pulled up in a manual transmission off-roading jeep and immediately offered me hot chocolate, so he had to be cool. Kacie made herself crack up all alone by changing the color of her inflatable tent lamp, so she had passed the test too. After a soggy night that staunchly defied the “0% precipitation” forecast, we got started.

From the beginning, the hike was gorgeous, even in the fog. The approach is entirely along the PCT, meaning mellow, well groomed, soft flat trails. Almost no elevation gain. We made good time. I had been worried about keeping up due to my abject lack of energy, but I did okay. Green trees and dirt gave way to white granite and larches, and soon enough we were all in a constant state of wonder. Everywhere you turned was beauty, it didn’t matter where you looked.

A few miles into the trail, I turned around and saw Simon talking on a banana phone, and Kacie exclaimed “You have service up here!? Do you have A Tree&Tree?!” and in that moment, I knew we had an awesome group.

Flat, well groomed PCT

Flat, well groomed PCT

We continued along the PCT with occasional glimpses of Tower and Golden Horn through the clouds, but it didn’t seem like weather was clearing up. The trail is very straightforward, since you’re on one of the most well-maintained trails in the state. The offshoot for Snowy Lakes is maybe a quarter mile after you pass beneath Tower Mountain, directly across from an open field with a few campsites (and in our case, four far ass marmots lying on a rock). The trail turns from beautiful flat highway to steep and rocky, but not too steep and rocky. We were just spoiled by the PCT, and being back on a less maintained trail was hard.

Snowy Lakes were stunning as soon as we came around the corner. We set up camp on a ledge sheltered from the wind at the lower lake, in a nook away from the mobs of people (all relative, it was like 20 people total). Luckily, there were rocks. I had been worried about setting up my tent. I hadn’t camped on a non-glacier in… well… a long time. Did I need stakes? What if there weren’t rocks? How do you keep it from flying off in wind if you can’t deadman anything!? Oh wait, there won’t be as much wind. It was pretty out of place, but damn if that orange didn’t look great against the yellow larches and bright blue water.

It's a little out of place

It’s a little out of place

Looking back at Mt. Hardy

Looking back at Mt. Hardy

We waited a bit longer before aiming for Tower, hoping for weather to clear up, but since it wasn’t improving, we got moving. Onward! We went off trail a bit to get to the talus slope, and from there you just work your way to a cave that’s very visible from Snowy Lakes. Cross to the right in front of the cave, and you will find yourself in the main gully. As you gain elevation, views open up, and the ridgeline that grows into Hardy was a very neat topographical feature. If only it had been clearer.

We made it to the cave, and someone said “Rave cave! We even have hula hoops!” I laughed and said “really?!” before realizing what a gullible idiot I was. There are no hula hoops in the wild. Except five minutes later, crossing the cave entrance, there were hula hoops! Holy shit, I didn’t think you were serious! Okay, perk for the way back. We were watching clouds drop lower and lower on Tower as some low hanging dark clouds came towards us from Black Peak, so we wanted to move fast. I announced that I didn’t think we’d get dumped on, we just wouldn’t have views.

Snow in the gully (Photo credit: John)

Snow in the gully (Photo credit: John)

Well, I’d be a shitty forecaster, because within 15 minutes, it was snowing. I’ll work on that. We made it to the gully (continue east past the cave and you’ll see the gully on your left) where we ran into a four person team that had turned around and had been waiting a long time for the other half of their group to get back. Much of the rock was frozen over, icicles included, not to mention the gully was a bowling alley of rocks to begin with. We let them pass us since they were turning around, and decided we’d still give it a shot. The left side is smoother with more exposure, the right side is more jagged with more prominent footholds and handholds, and that’s the way I’d suggest going.

It didn’t matter, we didn’t make it very far. We turned around maybe 200 vertical feet from the summit. It just wasn’t worth it. Cold fingers, low visibility, snow, rock fall, icicles, the potential for the entire fourth class scramble to be a sheet of ice on our way down… meh. We turned back, knocking down a microwave sized rock in the process. The other group was long gone, but it’s still a little unnerving.

Why would you stay at home when you can hula hoop in a cave on the side of a mountain?!

Why would you stay at home when you can hula hoop in a cave on the side of a mountain?! (Photo credit: John)

Nearly back at the cave, Rob turned to me and just said “we should hula hoop!” I thought he was joking, but to hell with it, we got to the cave and picked up those damn hula hoops and went for it! There is nothing more hilarious than John and Rob hula hooping in a cave in the snow at 8,000ft. Well maybe the human ladder that happened 24 hours later, but we’ll get to that. We hula hooped, we broke into bouts of Beach Boys songs and dancing. I had Surfin Safari in my head (why? it’s the furthest topic from what we’re doing) and had shamelessly sung the opening verse a few times, which eventually triggered a spontaneous performance of Barbara Ann since we had a perfect division of bass voices and sopranos (if I try to be shrill enough). Barbara Ann became the song of the trip, much like Come and Get Your Love back on Eldoardo. It’s just hilarious and makes me smile every time. Anyway, imagine hiking up to a cave and there’s a bunch of people hula hooping in snow singing that. That would have happened, except that no one else was up there, because it was gross out.

Cave life

Rave cave! (There was a bivvy spot in the back if you’re ever stuck)

Jesus brings out the sun back at the lakes

Jesus brings out the sun back at the lakes

Energy renewed and spirits lifted, we set out back down the loose talus to head back to camp. Simon had turned around earlier, and we wondered what he might have in store for us. More hot chocolate? A fire? No, that’s a lot to ask. We stopped to take pictures of the snowy larches, lament how the weather wasn’t doing us any favors, and joke about how it was so foggy there WAS no peak to summit, I mean if you turn around there’s just nothing there! At Rob’s suggestion, we considered pathetically yelling “Simon!” in the fog close to camp, hoping he’d get the Touching the Void reference. But it wasn’t foggy enough, and we were so excited by what Simon had for us back at camp that we forgot anyway.

Not only was there hot chocolate, there was a fire! In the snow! Woo! We had our hot drinks and crowded around it warming up, until someone turned around and saw the sun breaking through the clouds across upper Snowy Lake. We dropped everything except cameras (and in Simon’s case, his precious fifth of vodka) and ran to the upper lake to take pictures. A group of unhappy looking campers was making dinner as we excitedly ran past to see the sun on the lake, and the next hour was spent running everywhere like overexcited chickens snapping pictures, talking to other pictures, doing karate, walking on water, skipping rocks (or trying to learn how, for me – “did you even have a childhood?!”) and enjoying the situation to its fullest.

Sun sneaking beneath the clouds

Sun sneaking beneath the clouds

“I’m a blackbelt what’d you expect?”

We finally figured we had overstayed our welcome at the upper lake. We were loud, and I proclaimed it was time to go back to our corner. We invited everyone to come to our fire, where we had plenty of food and drinks. Alcoholic or just cozy, take your choice. No one took us up on our offer besides a camper across Lower Snowy Lake from us, who couldn’t resist the offer of fire and warm drinks and hilarious jokes. We crowded around it again as night fell, and thoroughly enjoyed our Backpacker’s Pantry meals, tabasco hot chocolate (sorry Kacie, I’m not sold on it), spiked hot chocolate, various kinda of tea, and finally, an apple crumble dessert. From Mountain House. Dehydrated. It was delicious, and would make a great breakfast too. Take note.

My body finally caught up to me, and I retired to my tent. My germ cocoon. Friday night I had felt iffy, Saturday night was doomsday. Doomsnight. I snuggled in my sleeping bag, freezing cold, and waited out the misery. Come on, body. Get over yourself, you have shit to do tomorrow. I finally gave up around 6am and left the tent to explore the outdoors since sleep was clearly a hopeless endeavor.

Golden Horn reflected in Lower Snowy Lake

Golden Horn reflected in Lower Snowy Lake

Mt. Hardy reflected in Upper Snowy Lake

Mt. Hardy reflected in Upper Snowy Lake

I got to watch sunrise light up Golden Horn, and snap pictures of reflections in the lakes. I hit up the lower ridgelines to look out over the clouds at the ridge across the valley. Eventually everyone else woke up and we made tea and hot chocolate. Guys, I’m used to being up and moving within an hour of waking up. Sitting around for three hours drove me insane. I don’t work well with casual starts, apparently.

We finally got moving a little after 9am. There was a group ahead of us on Golden Horn that I had run into before the rest of my team woke up, so I knew we’d have company. I was a little worried about keeping up with everyone given how I was feeling, but eh, I’d play it by ear. We were in such a beautiful place, it wouldn’t even matter if I missed out on the peaks.

Looking back at Tower over Snowy Lakes

Looking back at Tower over Snowy Lakes

The hike to Golden Horn is almost entirely line of sight – walk across scree fields until you’re nearly at the base of the summit block, and then do a little class three scrambling to wrap around to the southwest side of the peak. A short gully will bring you to the final few steps. Here, stay on the southwest side of the peak, don’t try to go for the north side. The other group had been staring at the northwest side for a long time, and was about to give up when we showed up and scouted out the southern side. We all joined up, and Joe offered to lead it.

He used two cams, 1 and .75 I think. There was a great horizontal crack in the second slab, and the second crack he utilized was between a flat boulder and the cube of granite that made up the final move to the summit. An elegant muscle up/shimmy combination, and he was on top! We let their team wrap up before sending John up to top rope our group.

Rob on the shimmy move

Rob on the shimmy move

I couldn’t figure out what the hell was taking John so long to get a good anchor set up. He finally got it worked out, and I got Kacie roped up and ready to go on her first rock climb. Go big or go home! Rob was up next after Kacie tapped the summit, and he made the muscle up/shimmy move look easy. John lowered him, and it was my turn. Getting up to that top move was a breeze, so I figured it couldn’t be that bad. I hopped up, got my elbows over the edge, and immediately realized it wouldn’t be so easy. For anyone who knew me in high school and college, my eight-straight-pull-up days are long over, and it was a pitiful fall from glory. My shoulders and lats forgot how to exist. I told John to drop me back to the flat ledge. I was gonna give it one more try before admitting defeat. Come on body, one push, just one push. With a shot of luck and a bit of a jump, I managed to drag my ass over the edge, only slightly resembling a beached whale. Hell. Yes. (note: how are there no pics or videos of people getting stuck trying to get out of a pool?! That’s what it was like)

Kacie got a solid 10 pics of the struggle

Kacie got a solid 10 pics of the struggle

Got there eventually! (Photo credit: John)

Got there eventually! (Photo credit: John)

I snapped a few pictures, laughed at John’s anchor (which was amazing but impressively precarious to set up, which is why it had taken so long), and had him lower me back down. Naturally I had wanted to rappel, but he was reluctant, and I realized I was in no condition to argue given how shitty I was feeling, and probably not in the best state for any major decisions either. Great, I’ll downclimb.

We finally went to regroup with Simon, who had patiently waited at the notch while we figured out the technical pitch. There was a tricky ledge we had to get across. I scuttled down it just fine (I think my state of mind took away the “look what’s below you, or isn’t” fear) but Simon announced that the previous group had used him as a human ladder, and when Kacie wasn’t sure about getting across, he grabbed a rock at the end, hung his body along the ledge and said “Okay, go, climb me!”

Simon sacrifices his body for the greater good

Simon sacrifices his body for the greater good

Simon coming back down the scramble

Simon coming back down the scramble

I think I cried laughing. Kacie’s face says it all. John was up next, and finally we were all across the ridge. At one point, I think Rob had told Simon he didn’t have to wait for us, and Simon had said “No, you need me to get down!” We had no idea what that meant until the human ladder happened. Simon for MVP!

From there, we made quick work of the hike back to camp. Plunge-stepping down scree is much easier than hiking up it, and before I knew it we were back at camp. Which was great, because I was losing hearing in my right ear (it still hasn’t returned three days later) and was on my way towards becoming a very useless group member. We took a break by the lake while everyone packed up tents (I can pack up that tent in like 10 minutes now). We finally had the lakes to ourselves, since everyone else had left. I ate about 1500 calories in one sitting. A beef and cheese burrito, a full thing of maple butter, a bag of m&ms, a kind bar, the combos that had spilled all over the brain of my bag. “Cheese flavored filling,” not even cheese. Whatever, they’re delicious.

The way the light reflected off the lake was ridiculous. That's Rob in the bottom left corner for scale

The way the light reflected off the lake was ridiculous. That’s Rob in the bottom left corner for scale

The hike back out was the perfect end to a trip. Sunny, smooth, greeting PCT through-hikers, golden hour, and (we had hoped) the lunar eclipse. Unfortunately, we didn’t catch a glimpse of the moon. We knew it was a supermoon, so when we saw tons of stars, we knew the moon had to be eclipsed. On the drive back, the moon was so bright it kept startling me when it flashed through the windows, and I stopped while crossing a bridge to get a good look.

I got back to Seattle a little after midnight, and succumbed to another miserable night. Turned out my bed wasn’t much better than the sleeping bag/tent/germ cocoon combo. And I probably hadn’t done myself any favors by going on that trip. But you know what? 100% worth it. Gorgeous area, awesome company, and one (and a half) stunning, enjoyable peaks. I think next year I’d like to turn it into a trail run if I don’t have time to take up a full weekend, and maybe take another shot at Tower. Or Hardy, which I’ll have to research, but I chatted with Dave at the top of Golden Horn and we thought it looked pretty doable. And I can only hope my next trip involves people as hilarious as the four I was with. Hula hoops and human ladders for all.

Golden hour

Fall foliage at golden hour